Christian Converts Forced to Return to Hinduism in India

Sunday, August 4, 2002

by Abhijeet Prabhu

BANGALORE, India (Compass) -- Nineteen villagers who recently embraced Christianity have been forced to re-convert to Hinduism in the Korua village of Kendrapada district in India's Orissa state after undergoing sustained social ostracism from their fellow villagers. They are also facing prosecution by the district administration for violating provisions of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA).

At the re-conversion ceremony, which took place on the evening of July 26, the villagers were forced to undergo the ritual of "shuddhikaran" (cleansing ceremony) and to pay obeisance to the village deity. The villagers have also been ordered to visit the shrine of Puri to fulfill added rituals necessary for returning to the Hindu religion, official sources said.

While one of the converts earlier admitted that there was no other alternative but to return to Hinduism if they were to survive, others maintained that they took the step voluntarily with the help of their fellow villagers.

Meanwhile, the Kendrapara district administration has started preparing a prosecution report against the 19 converts on charges of violating provisions of the OFRA, which makes it mandatory for people who want to change their religion to inform the district magistrate, who will then have the matter examined by police.

While the police claim that the villagers failed to inform the authorities of their desire to convert to Christianity, the All India Christian Council (AICC) has maintained that the police were informed.

The AICC statement alleges that the police have used the Freedom of Religion Act selectively against the Christians but not against the Hindu fundamentalists who forced them to re-convert. Ironically, conversion from Christianity to Hinduism is exempted from the bill. The AICC has also accused the district administration of tacitly supporting the re-conversions.

In February, the Orissa police invoked the same act to prevent a family of six tribals from becoming Christians. The Rev. Rameswar Mundu, pastor of a local church, was asked by the police to desist from baptizing Karuna Singh and five members of his family in Jamabani village for allegedly not obtaining the required permit.

The re-conversion incident took place not far from the area where Australian missionary Graham Staines and his family ministered. Staines and his two sons were burned alive by Hindu extremists in January 1999.

Due to periodic delays, only 15 of the 117 witnesses have so far been examined in the murder trial of Dara Singh, the prime suspect in the Staines' murder. District Judge Mahendranath Patnaik, who is presiding over the case, says he cannot prevent the case from being delayed by "some pretext or the other." He adjourned the trial until September 3 after a lawyer for two of the accused said that they were sick, giving no explanation of their illnesses.

Earlier the judge had said that "no fake illnesses" would be tolerated when he postponed the case in July because of the defendant's illnesses. However, when Prosecutor Sudhakar Rao urged the court to schedule more hearing days so the trial could continue speedily, the judge responded, "What can I do if the trial is not being allowed to proceed on some pretext or the other?"

Copyright 2001, Compass News Direct. Used with Permission.